Friday, October 4, 2013

Mark Diehl's 91-Puzzle Batch Puts Us Over 12,000 (Litzstarter's Halfway Point!), In 1961, October Litzer of the Month Mike Buckley, Davidson Institute Brings Project to Capitol Hill, and Meeting Bernice Gordon

Great news:  We've just passed the halfway point in Litzstarter, and we're also more than halfway toward the goal of reaching 13,000 litzed puzzles by the end of October—as I write this, we're at 12,088!  The week started off with 28 puzzles sent in by Ralph Bunker on Saturday morning.  Sunday morning, Denny Baker sent in 7 puzzles, which were followed by another 28 from Ralph that evening, putting us over 11,900 on the litzing thermometer!  Very early Monday morning, Mike Buckley—our October Litzer of the Month—sent in 7 more puzzles, which were followed a bit later on by 11 proofread puzzles from Todd Gross.  That afternoon, Vic Fleming sent in 7 more, then Tuesday morning, Denny sent in an additional 7.  Early Wednesday morning, Mark Diehl sent in a whopping 91 puzzles—yes, 91!—the most I've ever received at one time!  This batch also put us over 12,000 on the litzing thermometer—the halfway point for the Litzstarter contest—and Mark's total for the contest at more than 300!  Then Wednesday afternoon, another humongous batch came in from Nancy Kavanaugh—42 more puzzles!  Thursday evening, Tracy Bennett sent in another 7 puzzles, and less than an hour later, Mark sent in 14 more puzzles.  Awesome, awesome job, everybody—thanks so much again!

The years have been zipping by, and we actually reached 1961 last week.  Although this was a year of many important events—including the Bay of Pigs, the inauguration of John F. Kennedy as President of the United States, and the start of construction of the Berlin Wall—perhaps the most memorable one occurred on April 12, 1961, when Soviet pilot and cosmonaut YURI Gagarin became the first human in space.  Here's a photo commemorating that event:

Image courtesy of The Paltry Sapien

In other news, we also have a new Litzer of the Month:  Mike Buckley!  Mike has litzed more than 160 puzzles and also enjoys playing bass guitar in concert and jazz bands.  To read more about Mike, click here or on the Litzer of the Month tab above.

As I wrote last week, I was in Washington, D.C., for the Davidson Institute for Talent Development's awards ceremony and reception for the 2013 Davidson Fellows.  This was truly an amazing event, which started off Thursday night in a "Hang Out Room" for Fellows at the Washington Court Hotel.  Not everyone had arrived yet, so I didn't get to meet all the other Fellows that night, but we all still had plenty to talk about!  Friday morning, everyone went to a delicious breakfast buffet, where I met most of the other Fellows, and then we all headed off to our individual appointments on Capitol Hill.  I was honored to present the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project to Senator Barbara Boxer's staffer Anne Clement that morning at the Hart Senate Office Building.

In front of the Capitol.

With Senator Boxer staffer Anne Clement.

I had several hours in between my meeting with Anne Clement and my next scheduled event, so I went to the Library of Congress to look into the possibility of obtaining old New York Times crossword books there.

Outside the Library of Congress.

Inside the Library of Congress.

I discovered that I'd have to arrange in advance to see whatever books they had.  I'd checked the catalog before leaving for Washington, and the Library of Congress does have some of these books, so I'm hoping to take a look at them the next time I'm in D.C.

After grabbing a quick lunch, I headed for the International Spy Museum, which I was very excited about seeing.  I didn't have much time, but what I saw of the exhibits was fascinating, and I bought an awesome Rubik's Cube safe, as well as a cool T-shirt!

I rushed back from the museum for a group meeting with Davidson Institute co-founder Bob Davidson, where I got to know more about the exciting projects my fellow Fellows were working on!  I had to leave a bit early to get to my next appointment, which was back at the Hart Senate Office Building with Senator Dianne Feinstein's staffer Crystal Martinez.  Two other Fellows from California, Natalie Ng and Michael Janner, and I met with her at the same time, and hearing them present their projects (which were very different from the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project!) was fascinating.

With Senator Feinstein staffer Crystal Martinez (second
from left) and Fellows Natalie Ng (far left) and Michael
Janner (far right).

Friday night all the Fellows gathered again for an informal group dinner, after which most of us headed back to the Hang Out Room.  Getting to know all the other amazing Fellows was one of the highlights of my trip, and we had a blast in the Hang Out Room talking about much more than just our projects!  I found that we all had a lot in common, despite our different interests and backgrounds.

Saturday morning we met again for another SAPID breakfast buffet, after which we were free to do whatever we wanted to until the reception that evening.  I spent a short while at the National Postal Museum, which was near our hotel and very interesting.  I particularly enjoyed a ZIP code–entering game, which reminded me a lot of litzing because you had to be accurate as well as quick!  I also enjoyed looking at some of the many stamps the museum had in its collections—maybe someday there'll be a crossword puzzle stamp, if there isn't one already!

Then, since I'd arranged to have lunch with litzer Barry Silk, I met up with him at Union Station and spent a couple of delightful hours at Pizzeria Uno talking about crosswords!

With Barry Silk at Union Station.

After lunch I went back to the National Postal Museum briefly to finish up my visit and then headed for the Museum of Crime and Punishment, which was especially interesting after having seen the International Spy Museum the day before!  I particularly appreciated the exhibit about Prohibition-era criminals and gangsters, since their names show up so much in crosswords and I hadn't really known their significance.

At the end of the afternoon, all the Fellows and their parents took shuttles to the Smithsonian's Museum of the American Indian for the Davidson Fellows reception.  After having our pictures taken, we chatted with each other and guests over delectable hors d'oeuvres and a wonderful dinner.

With Fellow Thabit Pulak on the shuttle to the reception.

Outside the Museum of the American Indian.

After dinner was the awards ceremony, at which Bob Davidson gave an inspiring speech and introduced each 2013 Davidson Fellow in turn.  All of us gave short speeches about our projects, after which Bob Davidson presented us with beautiful trophies.  Hearing the Fellows present their projects in more detail was a humbling experience—I felt very honored to have been included in such an amazingly accomplished group of my peers, most of whom had carried out very sophisticated scientific or mathematical projects.  The Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, in the "Outside the Box" category, was one of just three nontechnical projects and the only one to win an award in that category.

The three-day event ended with another marathon session in the Hang Out Room, this time bittersweet, since we knew it was the last time we'd probably all be together.  Even though I had only just met the other Fellows, most of whom were still in high school, we had bonded very quickly.  I think we'll see each other again in the future, perhaps in whatever colleges we end up attending.  Thanks so much again to the Davidson Institute for this unforgettable event and for this honor to the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project.

Although the Davidson Fellows reception had ended, I had another major event in store the next day:  meeting legendary constructor Bernice Gordon!  Bernice and I collaborated on a puzzle celebrating age differences; that puzzle was published in The New York Times on June 26, 2013, and you can see it here.  At 99, Bernice is currently the oldest constructor publishing in the Times, and at 16, I am currently the youngest.

Bernice and I had corresponded for months but never met each other, so I made a special trip up to Philadelphia for that purpose.  It was wonderful finally getting to meet her—Bernice is just as friendly and interesting in person as in her e-mails, and we had a lot of fun discussing crosswords, the puzzle community, and crossword history.  Bernice lives in a spacious, light-filled apartment near The Franklin Institute that is filled with books and her own amazing art and needlework.  After a yummy lunch of crab cakes and pistachio ice cream, we spent the rest of the afternoon talking and playing word games on her computer.  We also looked at some Web sites, including XWord Info, as well as part of the video of Will Shortz's recent talk in Minneapolis.  Here are some pictures from my visit:

Showing Bernice the project's database.

An old puzzle Bernice constructed by hand.

Calendar at Bernice's complex listing her crosswords class.

Saying goodbye after a wonderful day.
In addition, I was able to go through two old scrapbooks of Bernice's puzzles and record the dates they were published, which I'll be able to add to my database.  Bernice also gave me many old crossword paperbacks, which I was thrilled to receive since I think some of them will help fill in more gaps in the database.  Every time I see an old crossword book with daily New York Times puzzles containing bylines, I check it against my database to see whether there are additional names I can match up with puzzles.  I'll be going through all of these books in the coming weeks, and I'm hopeful that at least some of the "Unknown" constructors will finally become known.

It was an amazing day, and I will treasure my meeting with Bernice forever.


  1. There are two US crossword stamps that I'm aware of:

    One with a Father's Day theme:

    The other was one in the Celebrate the Century set for the 1910s. I was invited to and attended the first-day ceremony in DC, where I met Arthur Wynne's grandson, Whitey Ford and Larry King.


  2. Great find, Stan—thanks so much! I especially like the second stamp.

  3. So cool. Really enjoyed hearing all about your trip!